If you can’t train your employees in their native language, you’re not a global company. Especially during a crisis, organizations must be able to train their employees to do their jobs across language barriers, ensuring that issues involving safety and productivity are not lost in translation. It’s important to adapt to the linguistic and cultural realities of employees and devise solutions, delivered safely and remotely, that impart information and safe behaviors without linguistic coercion.

The Problem of Monolingualism and Its Impact on Efficiency and Productivity

In a survey by Rosetta Stone and Forbes Insights, over half of executives said that linguistic barriers separated workers and senior management. When this is the case, essential information is not being communicated. Among the consequences:

    • Miscommunication contributes to inefficiency.
    • Employees don’t collaborate effectively.
    • Productivity is lower than it should be.

In a time of crisis, like the one the world now confronts, stakes are even higher. To the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reportedly found that language barriers contribute to a stunning 25% of injuries in the workplace. Safety training in an unfamiliar language is bound to mean that essential information falls between the cracks. Poor communication and collaboration impact the health and efficiency of the workforce and can expose the whole company to unacceptable risk. Now, workplace rules are more complex and include wearing masks and maintaining social distance. The question is what executives can do to solve interlingual communication problems in order to ensure everyone follows those rules.

How Training and Translation Companies Can Cooperate

Language education can be a long-term solution but, for now, is a luxury most employers can’t afford and won’t prioritize. Executives today require quick urgent action to deal with the plethora of immediate problems they face. This action can be a remote seminar, a webinar or an online course.

Here’s where translation agencies can step up to the plate. The urgency of the moment demands improving interlingual communication skills in the workplace. Instead of continuing with translation and training services, companies can pivot to meet immediate, high-priority needs.

10 Tips for Interlingual Training

Managers are surveying their areas of responsibility and decides which cost and profit centers can be downsized, eliminated or replaced by outsourced contractors. The decisions may be painful, but, once made, the priority shifts to ensuring that remaining staff are productive and motivated. The key may be communications, which includes communicating with employees in their native language. Here are 10 tips that can help.

1. Assess the Language Skills of Your Workforce

First, assess employees’ language skills. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Don’t just ask them, but test them in functional areas — reading, speaking, listening and writing — and evaluate across all languages.

2. Be Culturally Sensitive in the Way You Deliver Training

In training sessions, instructors should ask trainees about their cultural and linguistic background, in their language; encourage them to express their ethnic pride; and ask them about their favorite expressions and ethnic dishes. All members of the training team should respect diversity and make it a value.

3. Survey Employees in Their Native Language

Ask employees, in their own language, about their feelings and any workplace issues they’re facing. This way, they will be motivated to express themselves fully and honestly.

4. Engage Learners With Each Other, Across Language Barriers

Multilingual training is not just for “foreign” speakers but for all employees. Reframe the conversation about what is “native” and what is “foreign.” Ask which words they know in another language, and ask them to name and describe a holiday that they don’t celebrate. Each employee should learn from the others.

5. Contract With a Professional Interpreter to Be on Call for In-house Training

Professional interpreters offer remote services via video remote interpreting (VRI) or over-the-phone interpreting (OPI). These services can be a wise investment if you lack bilingual or multilingual facilitators.

6. Ensure Digital Platforms Support All Native Languages Present in Your Enterprise

Use translation technology to facilitate interlingual conversation. Voice interpreter apps are free and available on every smartphone and computer. Try the simultaneous interpretation and conversation features of Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, for example.

7. Translate All Training, Safety and Human Resources Documents

Translating all important documents will cover your liability and earn staff appreciation, as it demonstrates basic respect.

8. Invest in Subtitles for Video Materials

Subtitles are especially important for training and safety. A small investment helps ensure and demonstrate that your company is doing all that it can to support a diverse workforce.

9. Incentivize Managers to Learn or Improve Their Language Skills

Language training should not just be for individual contributors and newcomers. Managers should receive time and a subsidy or grant for an online language course. Workers are more productive when their managers speak their first language.

10. Show, Don’t Just Tell

Visual demonstrations and role-playing are keys to successful active learning. Multilingual training, even if it’s done remotely, should be dynamic and engaging, not perfunctory and rote.

As a training manager coping with the current crisis, your job is to keep your people safe and productive and your company not only surviving but thriving. Ensuring that language is not an impediment is a wise and timely investment. These tips for remote interlingual communication can keep your company from getting lost in translation — or training.